Round 1 of the 2020 PGA Championship was as wild as advertised, and the first major of the year is off to a hot start at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. We have a major champion as the first-round co-leader, an insane club debacle from a top-10 golfer and a Big Cat in the mix heading into Friday. Oh, and that’s not to mention that the two-time defending champion at this event is one shot off of the lead through 18 holes.
Jason Day co-leads with Brendon Todd after a terrific 65 in which Day closed like a PGA champion, but the entire leaderboard is filled with the biggest names in the sport. A much-anticipated major season is off to a great start on a challenging course, and after seven straight months of mostly bad news, that certainly feels good to type.
Here are nine thoughts after Round 1 of the PGA Championship as we look ahead to cut day.
1. Back-to-back-to-back Brooks? Brooks Koepka was again dominant in Round 1 as he shot a slick little 66 early in the day. At 4 under, he trails Day and Todd by just one going into Round 2. It’s the eighth-straight PGA Championship round after which he’s been in the top three (he’s led for six of those eight), and Koepka is trying to pull off what hasn’t happened in nearly 100 years by win three straight Wanamaker Trophies. The best part? His ongoing troll job of Bryson DeChambeau continued after the round. I need a Bryson-Brooks pairing this weekend like I need air to breathe.
2. Day-to-day: Day quietly entered this event as one of the hottest players in the world. He’s had three straight top 10s and — unlike some of his previous heaters — he’s getting it done from tee to green more so than he is with the putter. The gimpy back is always a concern, and he’ll surely have a moment or two this week when it feels like the body is hanging in the balance, but his statistical profile and recent run of goof play has me thinking he’ll be around all weekend. Day’s bogey-free 65 on Thursday was his first such round at a major since 2017, this from a golfer who, according to Elias Sports Bureau, had more bogey-free rounds in majors (nine) than any other golfer from 2010-16.
3. Content machine: Bryson DeChambeau did the following on Thursday.
- Broke his driver on the 7th hole by leaning on it
- Hit seven drives of 320 or more yards
- Got trolled multiple times by Koepka (in a variety of ways)
- Nearly touched the lead late in the day
It would be one thing if the content being made was about somebody who was missing cuts and not playing quality golf, but DeChambeau continues to be awesome as both a golfer and a content-deliverer. He actually finished second in driving distance on Thursday, but he should be in it going to the weekend based on the way the course is set up. I normally don’t say this, but given the year we’ve been through already, we actually do deserve a Brooks-Bryson pairing this weekend.
4. Early-late: It appears as if early-late is the good draw this week as the afternoon wave saw the course play nearly a stroke harder than the morning wave did on Thursday. We’ll see if that flip-flops and evens out on Friday, but only a couple of golfers in the afternoon even sniffed Day’s 5-under lead and only Todd touched it. “It played really difficult out there on the back nine,” said DeChambeau, who played late in the afternoon and talked about how the wind picked up as he was coming down the back nine.
5. Tough Cat: Much will be said about Tiger Woods’ new putter, but the real story from Round 1 when it comes to the Big Cat’s day is how he held the middle of it together even though he couldn’t sniff a fairway. Woods saved several pars when he didn’t have anywhere close to his best stuff and posted a score late because he started rolling it. It will fly under the radar, but it was a low-key classic Tiger major performance (that is, as long as he capitalizes on it on Friday-Sunday.
6. Throw it back a decade: Oh, look at that, two major winners from 10 years ago are inside the top five, and they could both make history with a win this week. Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson (combined world ranking of 338) both shot 4-under 66s on Thursday. With a win, they would both move into the three-major club with only the following active players ahead of them in the major total being Woods, Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els. It’s unlikely that either will win, but if they last another two days, neither will be scared on Sunday.
7. The Rory experience: It’s not great right now in majors. McIlroy seems to have a penchant for playing his way slightly out of the tournament early in the week before storming back to make the cut and harmlessly finishing in the top 10 or top 20. That’s not a formula he’s ever used in his major wins when he was the best from out in front of anyone in the sport. On Thursday, he birdied his first hole and made bogey on three of his next four. It wasn’t a weekend killer, but it had the feel of that early on. Good fight from him coming home to shoot 70, but good fights don’t win fifth major championships.
8. Big bombers: It’s not a guarantee that if you’re a big hitter you’ll play well at TPC Harding Park, but the leaderboard is dotted with some of the best drivers in the game. Xander Schauffele (-4), Scottie Scheffler (-4), Koepka (-4), Tony Finau (-3), Viktor Hovland (-2), Paul Casey (-2) and DeChambeau (-2) are all top drivers on the PGA Tour this year. I suspect this list of players at the top of the board will only become more (not less) rife with big boppers as the rough grows and the week wears on.
9. Sad Spieth: Jordan Spieth finished outside the top 125 in both driving and putting on Thursday, and he somehow looked more lost after his round than during it. It was tough to watch him grinding for several hours after his round on the range with his swing instructor Cameron McCormick and essentially the inverse of the iconic photo of him alone on the range right before he won the 2015 Masters. There is no end in sight for his woes.
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